At GUIDE, we are always striving to increase community involvement in one of our major initiatives, preventing and reducing underage drinking. We began focusing on this issue almost 20 years ago after seeing a substantial increase in teenage drinking within our community. While underage drinking in Gwinnett County has decreased, the impact of underage drinking on the teenage brain remains the same.
We invite you to help “Save Brains” by sharing four reasons for teens to be alcohol free!
- A human brain takes about 23-25 years to fully develop. During the teen years, the brain is still developing and significant chemical changes are occurring. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity.” Effective thinking, judgement and decision making are also still in development, which can provide an explanation for why teens have “a tendency to act on impulse—without regard for risk.” Drinking alcohol impairs their judgment even more, which puts them at a higher risk for accidents, depression, suicide, sexual assault and other substance abuse.
- Alcohol use interrupts normal brain “wiring” by slowing down brain activity and development. As alcohol is a depressant, consuming it “makes nerve cells in the brain less excited, causing them to slow down.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this can make a “person think, speak and move slower.” Altered speech, impaired vision and weakened muscles are just a few of the indicators that the brain is slowing down; the amount of slowing depends on the quantity of alcohol, the speed in which a person drinks, if other drugs are involved and a person’s weight, height and gender. These effects are particularly dangerous if teens are to get behind the wheel of a car, putting them at greater risk of hurting themselves or others.
- The brain hippocampus can be 10% smaller in underage drinkers. According to an American Medical Association report, youth who drink are most at risk for damaging vital areas of the brain, one being the hippocampus. Youth “who [have] been drinking more and for longer [have] significantly smaller hippocampi (10 %).” This is problematic as the hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory, both of which are crucial to adolescent development and making important life decisions. If teens aren’t careful, alcohol can jeopardize their future and cause them to miss out on important life experiences and lessons.
- Alcohol interferes with storing new information as memories. From a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publication, we know that “alcohol disrupts a person’s ability to form new, lasting memories to a far greater extent than it interferes with the ability to recall previously established memories.” After just one or two drinks, alcohol can reach the hippocampus, making it difficult for a person to remember something he or she just learned, such as a name or phone number. “If alcohol damages the hippocampus, a person may find it hard to learn and to hold on to knowledge.” If teens aren’t able to store new information and learn new skills, it can significantly affect their school performance and ability to meet their goals.
Did you know that parents are the #1 influence in a teen’s decision NOT to drink? Here’s what adults and parents can do to help prevent underage drinking:
- Eat dinner together regularly.
- Be caring and supportive.
- Maintain open lines of communication.
- Set no-drinking rules and consequences. Be consistent with them.
- Surround your child with positive role models.
- Teens need parents to be parents, not drinking partners.
- Keep track of the alcohol in your home. Count it and lock it up.
- Check in with your teens about their plans and ask about alcohol.
- Be up and ready at curfew; talk with your teens about their night.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse. If problems occur, get help promptly.
Know that you are the key to your teen’s future! Join us in our efforts to prevent underage drinking by talking to your teen about alcohol use, pledging to “Save Brains.”